Nothing Except Jesus Christ And Him Crucified

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The title of this post is from First Corinthians 2:2. I have been preparing for our congregation’s upcoming mid-week services during which I am teaching through this book. I have been reminded of different men over the years who have condemned me for not teaching only the gospel. “Surely,” they have said, “you are not teaching biblically because you teach things in your sermons other than the gospel.”

These words by the Spirit through the apostle Paul are often misunderstood. Some, I will assume well-intentioned, people teach that Paul never taught anything else and neither should we. So everything you hear from them, every sermon you sit through, is a restatement of the gospel. They think they are being obedient to this verse by doing so. Too often this is simply an excuse for sloppy or lazy preparation. A sort of anti-intellectualism.

Sadly, these “gospel only” people are wrong. How do we know this? Simply by reading the rest of First Corinthians! Paul addresses a variety of issues other than the gospel, including incest, church discipline, legal matters, spiritual gifts, giving, etc. Clearly these various issues are not “Christ and the Cross” only.

Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. has clearly explained the Biblical teaching on this topic:

Preaching Christ, especially from the Old Testament, does not mean that every verse in the Old Testament directly reveals the Messiah. Instead, it argues from a concept of the unity and cohesiveness of the whole Bible that the same overarching story begins, continues, and ends where it had always been he intended to end in the plan of God.

If this is central, it in no way undermines a host of other topics relating to ethics, morality, and other doctrines that radiate out from this center. To appeal to Paul’s tactical decision when he was in Corinth (‘I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,’ 1 Cor. 2:1-2), is to make one special case normative for his total ministry. But his writings to that same city, Paul treated a number of other issues that admittedly were tangential to Christ and his death and resurrection. For example, he took up the problems connected with taking fellow believers to court to sue them, the issue with divisions in the church, and the challenges of remaining single. His claim to know ‘nothing about Jesus Christ and him crucified’ is a hyperbole used here to emphasize what is central, but not to exclude other areas given to him by revelation of God. (emphasis added) (Recovering the Unity of the Bible, 219)

The Influence of Other Pastors


All pastors have some influence on others pastors, even those pastors who have isolated/insulated themselves from others. Over the years I have been influenced by various pastors. All have impacted me in one of two ways.

Negatively

I learned a lot of what not to do or say by observing other pastors. I have learned what ministry does not look like. I have learned how Bible teaching should not be accomplished. I have learned how shepherding should not be done.

There have been men who have discouraged me from studying the Bible. There have been men who have scoffed at me for studying theology. There have been men who have discouraged me from knowing God better. I thank God for showing me good examples of bad examples so that I would learn.

God keep me from being like these unbiblical examples. Give me grace to warn other pastors to avoid these unbiblical examples.

Positively

On the other hand, I am grateful to God for allowing me to learn so much by watching and listening to godly men who have faithfully served, often in relative obscurity. They have modeled Godward ministry. They have modeled Godward teaching. They have modeled Godward shepherding. They have modeled a Godward marriage and family. They have modeled a Godward life.

There have been men who have encouraged me to study the Bible more. There have been men who have encouraged me to study theology more. There have been men who have encouraged me to know God better. I thank God for showing me good examples of good examples so that I would learn.

God give me grace to be like these men who exemplify Godward principles of life and ministry. Give me grace to positively influence others as a good example of a Godward pastor.

Isn’t that the concept Paul told Timothy in 1st Timothy 4:12: Let no one look down on you because of your youthfulness, but exemplify the believers’ character in speech, behavior, love, faith, and purity. (MIT)

What Is A Church Member To Do When Their Pastor … (part 1)


Throughout my 30+ years of pastoral ministry I have heard many strange accounts from people of some rather odd behavior by pastors. Here is a list of just some of the strange and unusual.

What is a church member to do when their …

  • … pastor habitually spends the entire night in his office at the church building not to study, but, by his own admission, to avoid having to sleep in the same house as his wife?
  • … assistant pastor tells you that it would be best if the majority of the church’s doctrinal statement were eliminated because he claims the best churches have the shortest doctrinal statements?
  • … pastor’s wife greets visitors to the parsonage completely naked?
  • … assistant pastor says that he wishes the library of the senior pastor would be totally destroyed?
  • … pastor regularly drives to the pastors’ fellowships, often traveling over 100 mph?
  • … pastor jokes with other pastors about standing by the swimming area at Bible camp to ogle the young women?
  • … pastor tolerates the church membership of the deacon’s wife who regularly cast spells and curses on the pastor and other church members?
  • … pastor publicly states that the primary goal for his sermon is to get people to laugh and smile?
  • … pastor, when asked if he would pray about a matter, responds by saying, “Oh, tell my wife instead.  She’s the one in the family who prays.”
  • … pastor, during an elders’ meeting, is startled to see another elder attempting to crawl across the table in order to punch him.

And then we wonder why our churches have problems?  Obviously some of these are more serious than others.  But still, may God grant us grace to fall before our holy God and repent of tolerating such attitudes and behavior.  James 3:1 come to mind, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we who are teachers will receive more intense scrutiny.” (MIT)

So, what should a church member do in this type of situation? I will address that in part 2.

New Oratorio of Abraham on October 25, 2014

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It has been my privilege to be preparing to sing with the adult choir of Deo Cantamus. This Saturday evening at 7 PM we will be performing the world premiere of the oratorio Abraham by Joshua Bauder. The performance will be held in the auditorium of Fourth Baptist Church in Plymouth, MN. If you are in the area, please join us. Admission is $5. If you can’t join us in person, perhaps you can take advantage of the live stream on the web site. Thanks for praying for this event. It will stir your soul, and remind you of the wonders of our promise-making and promise-keeping God.

The Truth is to be Obeyed

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In Galatians 5:7-12, the Spirit of God enables Paul to write concerning the truth. He wants the Galatian believers to consider the identity of the person who has hindered their progress (5:7). It certainly isn’t God! (5:8) These false-teachers and false-brothers have been cutting them off in the race. They are now stumbling down the course trying to regain their balance. That’s what Paul is trying to help them with.

This progress is referred to in 5:7 as “obeying the truth.” We could appropriately translate it as “be persuaded by the truth.” In fact, there are three uses of the root concept of persuasion: 5:7 (obey), 8 (persuasion), and 10 (confidence).

John Eadie, in his helpful commentary on Galatians writes:

Truth was the course, and obedience was a progress. … The truth is the truth of the gospel. … That truth is opposed in the apostle’s mind not simply to what is false, but to every modification or perversion of it, under any guise which would rob it of its efficacy, mar its symmetry, or in anyway injure its adaptation to man. And the truth is to be obeyed; not simply understood or admired, but obeyed. (389, 390; emphasis mine)

Sometimes it seems to me that we are fairly good at admiring or even understanding the truth. But we really struggle with obeying the truth. To obey the truth is to be so persuaded that it is true Truth that it transforms the way we live, think, and desire. When we genuinely embrace the truth, it transforms us.

Standing By God’s Elbow

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While doing some reading during a time of convalescence, I came across this delightful quote in Pastor William Gurnall’s helpful book, The Christian in Complete Armor. Gurnall (1616-1679) pastored in Lavenham of Suffolk (northeast of London) for approximately 35 years.

This wise pastor wrote to the dear flock of God among whom he faithfully ministered:

Thou mayst know thou art elect, as surely by a work of grace in thee, as if thou hadst stood by God’s elbow when he writ thy name in the book of life. (96)

Even though his wording may sound quaint to our ears, let us not dismiss the Biblical teaching that remains true in our day. Genuine Christians can know that they truly are God’s children. The book of First John was written for that purpose. Assurance of salvation seems best understood from two perspectives: objective assurance and subjective assurance.

Objective assurance is what we find written in God’s inspired Word. By faith we tenaciously cling to what is written. There are certain truths that describe all those who are God’s elect. It never changes. It remains just the same today in the 21st century as it was in the 17th century during which Gurnall ministered. This focuses on God, what God says about our unchanging relationship with Him.

Subjective assurance is what we possess in our hearts. This, however, may fluctuate from time to time. We may wrestle with our feelings and imaginations. This subjective assurance tends to focus on Self, how we feel about our relationship with God at this present time. But thankfully, changes in subjective assurance do not change objective assurance. To say it another way, objective assurance must guide our subjective assurance. In other words, what is written must govern what is felt.

To be sure, some wrongfully claim subjective assurance of salvation who have no legitimate claim to objective assurance. These pseudo-brothers should not feel secure before God, but some still make the empty claim.

But there is a legitimate aspect to subjective assurance. Peter reminds us that subjective assurance can at times be based on the appropriate evidence of God’s work in our lives. Peter commands us in his second letter, Therefore brothers, make every effort to demonstrate the validity of your call and election, for while doing these things (1:5-7) you will never stumble. (2nd Peter 1:10)

What grace God grants to His children to know that they have eternal life (1st John 5:13)!

Do You Have Biter’s Remorse?

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We have all heard about buyer’s remorse. Who among us hasn’t regretted a purchase in a store or from a particular vender? Well, this morning I had biter’s remorse. I picked up a promising slice of cucumber and bit into it, assuming that the refreshing taste of summer would still be there. However, due to a variety of circumstances in the development of that cucumber, it was not pleasant. At all. Biter’s remorse caused me to spit out that cucumber slice.

But have you ever had spiritual biter’s remorse? I think it is safe to say Adam and Eve did in the garden, don’t you? Remember Genesis 3? Blaming someone except themselves. Solomon also describes biter’s remorse in Proverbs 20:17, “Bread gained by deceit tastes sweet to a person, but afterward his mouth is filled with gravel.” (NET) Judas experienced this in Matthew 27:23, “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.” (CSBO)

Or that temptation we bit into recently that promised to be so satisfying, only to find our soul filled with remorse. Remember James 1:14-15? What once appeared so promising turned out to be harmful to us. The mood set by neon lights and dazzling sounds changed so rapidly once we took our first bite. “How could I have been so foolish?” we lament. “What was I thinking?” are words of regret I have often heard as a pastor. “How could a relationship with that other woman have appeared so attractive if I had been thinking Biblically about my wife?” “Why did I allow those thoughts of anticipated pleasure from sexual immorality to override what I know was right before God?” “Why did I as a unmarried Christian young woman allow that young man to do what he did to me for the now-broken promise of his love? What was I thinking?”

Remorse. Regret. But, in and of itself, this is not genuine repentance, is it? I will try another cucumber, most likely. I won’t let one bad experience change that. This spiritual biter’s remorse is little more than a self-centered dread of the consequences for what I have done. It was unpleasant, sure. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, true. I wish that what has been done could be undone.  But still there is no true change of heart.

Genuine repentance leads to a forsaking of the sin. This repentance is brought about by a change of heart caused by the Spirit of God. Read Second Corinthians 7:9-12. This is not biter’s remorse. It is God-honoring repentance to the glory of His name.

A Pastor’s Anxiety

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We have a tendency to evaluate all anxiety as being sinful. And I would generally agree with that evaluation. However, there is some anxiety that is Biblically appropriate because it focuses on God and His people. Let me explain how the Bible displays this type of anxiety in a good light.

First, remember Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians in 4:20. He writes, “I am perplexed [aporeo Strong’s # 639] about you.” We are reminded of the word picture indicating that we have reached the bank of the river and are unable to find the fording place. We are at a loss as to what to do next. We don’t know how to proceed in this situation. This uncertainty unsettles us, perplexes and disquiets us. There is no hint of sin at this stage. In fact, this sort of occasion can be healthy for us because it encourages us to turn to the only wise God for guidance. (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6; Romans 16:27; 1st Timothy 1:17; Jude 1:25) You may want to look at the other uses of this verb (cf. John 13:22; Acts 25:20; and 2nd Corinthians 4:8) and the noun [aporia # 640] (cf. Luke 21:25).

Second, Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of his concern for all the congregations he has worked with (2nd Corinthians 11:28). Here Paul utilizes a Greek word for concern [merimna # 3308]. You’ll recognize from the context that Paul is detailing indicators of his loving concern. Look at what he experienced while ministering to them. This is not sinful apprehensiveness, but appropriate concern for those we love. Sinful worry tends to focus on future possibilities of danger or misfortune. Legitimate concern knows that potential dangers exist and is concerned for those loved ones who may experience these potential dangers. Appropriate concern is referred to in 1st Corinthians 7:32-34. Sinful worry is condemned in Matthew 6:25ff and Philippians 4:6.

So, can pastors have legitimate anxiety for the flock among which they minister? Yes. Thank God that your pastor genuinely cares about the flock. Pray for your pastor that this anxiety will not shift over into the realm of sinful worry. Legitimate anxiety turns in faith to the omnipotent God, who works all things after the counsel of His will (cf. Ephesians 1:11). Sinful worry turns to the impotent resources of self.

Oh, I Didn’t Know That

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How many times have you found yourself saying/thinking, “Oh, I didn’t know that”? You had arrived at a conclusion regarding something/someone and upon getting more information, you said/thought, “Oh, I didn’t know that. Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have made the decision I made.” Can you say, “Buyer’s remorse”?

Someone once said that one of the most used words in heaven will be, “Oh ….” We don’t fully understand in the here and now what God is doing. But when we get to heaven He may reveal more details to us. We have whined and complained, we have doubted and feared, we have questioned or thought something too difficult. But when we arrive in His presence, we will probably say, “Oh, I didn’t know that. That makes sense now.” His wisdom is infinite, ours is not. See Psalm 147:5; Romans 11:33.

We do a similar thing in our evaluations of people and their circumstances. We arrive at a conclusion concerning someone, only later to learn something new. “Oh, I didn’t know that earlier.” We commend or else criticize people for a decision they made. Later, once we have more information, we say, “Oh, had I known that, I would have made a different decision.” Too often our commendations prove faulty. Too often are criticisms prove unfounded.

Will we humble ourselves and admit that we have been wrong in our judgments? Will we acknowledge the foolishness and disgrace associated with our attitudes and actions and seek forgiveness from those who have prematurely judged? Remember Proverbs 18:13, “The one who gives an answer before he listens, it is foolishness and disgrace to him.

Buyer’s remorse occurs when the true character of an unqualified pastor or deacon is revealed in time. It takes place when we eventually learn the true nature of someone we initially thought trustworthy. It occurs when we finally learn the background as to why someone in leadership made a decision with which we initially disagreed. How easy it is make a hasty commendation or condemnation.

May God grant us grace to make sober judgments. Sober-mindedness is not only beneficial, it is a necessity.

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